Born: March 9, 1972
Birthplace: New York, NY
Zodiac Sign: Pisces
Anthony Cruz aka AZ, is an American rapper born in Brooklyn, New York. He is known for being a longtime and frequent music partner of Nas, and also a member of hip-hop group The Firm alongside Nas, Foxy Brown, Cormega and Nature. In a countdown of the 10 Most Underappreciated Rappers—Most Underrated Rappers of All Time, the editors of About.com listed AZ as #1 on the list. He was also included on About.com's list of the Top 50 MCs of Our Time (1987–2007), where he was described as "arguably the most underrated lyricist ever." He is of African-American and Dominican descent.
Cruz started writing rap lyrics when he was 12 years old. In the early 1990s, he became friends with Nas, a young rapper from Queens. Nas started working with his debut album Illmatic and invited Cruz to work with him in a studio. They made a song called "Life's a Bitch". After it was released in 1994, EMI Records offered Cruz a record deal.
AZ first became known by appearing on Nas's landmark 1994 album Illmatic on the song "Life's a Bitch", as well as featuring vocals on the opening track The Genesis. AZ signed with EMI, and soon released his debut album Doe Or Die in 1995 to critical acclaim. The album's lead single, "Sugar Hill", became AZ's major commercial success as a solo artist, reaching #25 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart, and achieving Gold status. AZ's EMI contract was transferred to sister label Noo Trybe/Virgin Records when the EMI Label Group was shut down.
In 1997, AZ and Nas appeared in a Sprite commercial. Also in 1997 the group The Firm with AZ, Nas, Nature, and Foxy Brown, released their only album as a group, The Album. The album featured production from well known producers such as Dr. Dre and the Trackmasters and generated much hype. The group disbanded after just this one album. In 1998 AZ released his second solo album, Pieces of a Man. The album fared well but did not chart quite as well as his debut and did not feature a crossover single like "Sugar Hill". The same year AZ made a cameo appearance in the movie Belly starring Nas, DMX, and Method Man.